Editorial: State unemployment rate in need of change

The great recession, as has been pointed out before, has been very uneven. 

Some areas and states have recovered well. Some, notably Illinois, have not.

Which brings us to a report released by Illinois Watchdog, which analyzed numbers released by the Bureau of Labor Statistics and announced Illinois is the worst state in the Midwest for black male unemployment.

The story reported the real unemployment rate for black males in Illinois is 47.9 percent. That’s a different number than the officially released unemployment, which only counts those who are looking for work. This number includes those who have given up hope of working and those who are completely unable to work.

We note that the problem of black male unemployment is not new. Here’s the sad thing: It’s not getting better. In 1969, at the end of the Lyndon Johnson War on Poverty, employment among black and white men was just about equal. According to the Center for Law and Social Policy, in that year, 78.7 percent of white man were working and 77.3 percent of black men were working. Today a white man is 18 percent more likely to be working than a black one. Progress is not inevitable.

Illinois, apparently is the fourth worst state in the union for black male unemployment. Only Arkansas, Mississippi and Alabama are worse, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Illinois is behind every other Midwestern state, behind Michigan, behind Ohio, behind neighboring Wisconsin and Indiana, though both are excoriated for having Republican governors and cutting taxes.

Some of the problems are not unique to Illinois. The Bureau of Justice reports that one in three black men in the nation will be incarcerated at some time, effectively barring them from many occupations at a young age. A young white man is twice as likely to earn a college degree as a young black man. And, it must be said, prejudice still exists on our society.

But here is the sad part. Illinois has been completely in the grip of the Democratic Party for a decade now. Democrats have held the governorship for three terms. They have solid majorities in both houses of the state legislature.

So you have to ask — have their policies failed in Illinois? Do we believe in rhetoric or results? Sometimes change comes from new people doing new things. Sometimes change comes from the same old people having the courage to try new things. One thing is clear. Some change is needed.

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